LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — There were too many penalties. The offense started at sprinter speed and then stalled for a bit. The tackling was far from textbook when the game began.
But in the end, all that stuff belongs in the second or third paragraph.
Despite those issues, the University of Louisville football team rallied from a 7-point deficit in the second half to defeat Central Florida, 20-14, Friday night at FBC Mortgage Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
“I think our defense played great tonight,” U of L coach Scott Satterfield said. “We tackled better tonight. A lot more contested balls in the secondary …
“It would be hard for me to explain how big it was. It’s a huge win. It’s a huge win.”
Credit quarterback Malik Cunningham and nastier, more complete play by the Cardinals’ defense.
Cunningham led the Cards to 13 points in the second half, finishing with 195 yards passing and 121 yards rushing. It was not the best game he’s played but it was more like the Malik Cunningham of 2021, a dangerous man with his right arm or his legs. Remember he only ran for 34 yards in the loss to Syracuse last week.
“I told him, ‘We’re going to have to ride you,’ ” Satterfield said. “I think in the first game, we didn’t let him play his game.”
“A win like this is always big, considering what happened last week,” Cunningham said.
And after allowing two touchdowns on UCF’s first three possessions, the Louisville defense limited the home team to 96 yards and no points in the second half.
Defensive back Jarvis Brownlee delivered the exclamation point, intercepting a pass by UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee in the end zone with 2:52 to play. Then the Cards stopped the Knights again on downs with 1:15 left.
“An incredible pick in the end zone,” Satterfied said. “It looked to me like he just took it from the receiver.”
That is indeed what happened.
The Cards increased the pass rush on both ends and forced Plumlee to prove he could beat them with his arm. He couldn’t. Plumlee completed 8 of his first 11 passes. He completed only 8 of his final 23. He threw for only 131 yards with a sub-par passer rating of 73.5.
“It was all the guys,” U of L defensive coordinator Bryan Brown said. “There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing guys celebrating in the locker room.”
It was a victory Louisville had to have — by any means necessary to erase the sting of the 31-7 loss at Syracuse last week. The Cards evened their record at 1-1 and won as a 6-point underdog. It was also a victory at a venue where the home team had lost only twice in its last 33 games — and both of those losses came during 2020, the COVID-19 season.
The Cards started the way they needed to start. They marched 75 yards on 10 plays in less than 5 minutes to lead 7-0.
The problem was Louisville did not score again for nearly 34 minutes. The next seven drives ended this way: Punt; missed field goal; fumble point stopped on down; the end of the second quarter and another punt.
The Cards did not score again until James Turner drilled a 35-yard field goal with 6:07 left in the third quarter.
That cut the UCF lead to 14-10 because the Knights scored on their first and third possessions, driving 80 and 77 yards. In fact, the Knights earned both touchdowns when halfback Isaiah Brown scored from 4 and 1 yards, taking a direct snap on the Wildcat formation. Louisville kept stopping itself with penalties The Cards finished with a dozen for 96 yards.
Just when everybody was howling at Brown’s defense, the Cardinals played with the edge and aggressiveness they promised before the season.
UCF gained 181 yards on its first 3 drives. UCF gained 170 yards on its final 10 drives. Four of the home team’s drives were three-and-outs.
Enter Cunningham. In case UCF had forgotten, Cunningham showed the Knights why he was the top running quarterback in America last season.
Facing a second-and-14 from the UCF 43, Cunningham set 3 receivers wide right, dropped back 2 steps with the snap, briefly looked downfield and then flashed around the left end, splitting a pair of defenders and then accelerating toward the end zone . UCF had nobody to touch him.
The Cards made it three consecutive possessions with points when Turner converted another 35-yard field goal after a drive stalled at the UCF 18 early in the fourth quarter. They held on from there, even surviving a strange, and failed, decision to Satterfield to try to convert a fourth down play on the U of L 47 in the final 6 minutes.
“I went for it on fourth down because I believed in our defense,” Satterfield said. “They bailed us out … I couldn’t be any more proud of our players.”
Louisville will play the first of back-to-back home games next Friday when Florida State visits. South Florida will come to Cardinal Stadium Sept. 24.
Copyright 2022 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.